Commentary Magazine


Topic: Manuel Zelaya

It’s Time to Support Honduras

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Roger Noriega and José Javier Lanza, a researcher at Vision Americas, have an important new essay out looking at the decision points which now loom for U.S. policy on Honduras. Honduras provided one of the first “3 a.m. phone calls” that President Obama had to take when, in 2009, the Honduran military overthrew President Manuel Zelaya’s government. While Obama almost immediately pronounced the episode a coup, it was actually less of a coup than what occurred this past July in Egypt. While Honduras held new elections and renewed its democracy, a perfect storm of regional events put Honduras’s progress in jeopardy. They begin:

As stepped-up counternarcotics policies in Colombia and Mexico have increased pressure on regional drug trafficking networks, organized crime syndicates have relocated operations to Central America, where law enforcement agencies and institutions are ill-equipped to withstand the onslaught. These multibillion-dollar gangs are making common cause with some local politicians who are following a playbook honed by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The result in Venezuela was the birth of a narcostate, and similar dramas are playing out in Central America. Like Chávez, caudillos are using the democratic process to seek power, weaken institutions, and undermine the rule of law—generating turmoil that accommodates narcotrafficking. Making matters worse for Honduras is that left-wing activists abroad, in support of ousted president and Chávez acolyte Manuel Zelaya, are waging a very public campaign of outlandish claims seeking to block any US assistance to help the Honduran government resist the drug cartels. It is imperative that US policymakers vigorously support democracy, the rule of law, and antidrug programs in Honduras.

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My American Enterprise Institute colleague Roger Noriega and José Javier Lanza, a researcher at Vision Americas, have an important new essay out looking at the decision points which now loom for U.S. policy on Honduras. Honduras provided one of the first “3 a.m. phone calls” that President Obama had to take when, in 2009, the Honduran military overthrew President Manuel Zelaya’s government. While Obama almost immediately pronounced the episode a coup, it was actually less of a coup than what occurred this past July in Egypt. While Honduras held new elections and renewed its democracy, a perfect storm of regional events put Honduras’s progress in jeopardy. They begin:

As stepped-up counternarcotics policies in Colombia and Mexico have increased pressure on regional drug trafficking networks, organized crime syndicates have relocated operations to Central America, where law enforcement agencies and institutions are ill-equipped to withstand the onslaught. These multibillion-dollar gangs are making common cause with some local politicians who are following a playbook honed by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The result in Venezuela was the birth of a narcostate, and similar dramas are playing out in Central America. Like Chávez, caudillos are using the democratic process to seek power, weaken institutions, and undermine the rule of law—generating turmoil that accommodates narcotrafficking. Making matters worse for Honduras is that left-wing activists abroad, in support of ousted president and Chávez acolyte Manuel Zelaya, are waging a very public campaign of outlandish claims seeking to block any US assistance to help the Honduran government resist the drug cartels. It is imperative that US policymakers vigorously support democracy, the rule of law, and antidrug programs in Honduras.

The whole essay is worth reading. The Honduran military ousted Zelaya because he refused to adhere to the rulings of the constitutional court. Obama was wrong to support him, or lend him any legitimacy. Democracy does not end at the ballot box, and no leader should remain above the law. With a “Pivot to Asia” and multiple crises in the Middle East, Obama may have forgotten Latin America, but how Honduras goes will have disproportionate impact on U.S. national security. Let us hope that the State Department and White House won’t blindly accept Zelaya’s propaganda, nor will Congress make any move to block assistance to the Honduran government which will enable its government to resist a growing but slow-motion assault by drug cartels and the regional governments which support them.

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Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

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Colombia Going Green?

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

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Humility Isn’t in the Obami Repertoire

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

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Standing up to the Obami

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

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Over, Finally

The curtain has come down on Manuel Zelaya and the Obami’s Honduran escapade:

The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup. Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup.

Well, Zelaya is still “holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.” But democracy has prevailed in Honduras. Hugo Chavez’s ambitions have been thwarted. The conservative critics of the Obami’s ill-fated decision to back Zelaya have been vindicated. And we hope that the Honduran people harbor no ill will toward the U.S., which cut off aid and took away some visas. But all’s well that end’s well, right?

Marty Peretz puckishly suggests that the Obama team should be touting this as a rare foreign-policy success. But that might require an uncomfortable recitation of the salient facts following the ouster of Zelaya:

The president spoke, Mrs. Clinton spoke especially shrilly. The government’s Latin American professionals supported Zelaya, whose backing seemed increasingly thin. And then quietly the Obamae began its retreat. First it said that it wanted Zelaya to return. But, then … no one in Foggy Bottom was talking about the deposed would-be dictator. And, yes, the U.S. would recognize the election of Lobo.

Yes, it’s a bit meandering. But what other foreign-policy foray has worked out so well? The Middle East. Hmm, not even. Iranian engagement? Yikes! Alliances with Eastern Europe and India? Uh, not really. The Russian reset? Slim pickings. The illustrious record on human rights? You see the point. At least in Honduras, the Obami figured out that they were playing a losing hand and retreated from the scene. It really is their finest hour.

The curtain has come down on Manuel Zelaya and the Obami’s Honduran escapade:

The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup. Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup.

Well, Zelaya is still “holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.” But democracy has prevailed in Honduras. Hugo Chavez’s ambitions have been thwarted. The conservative critics of the Obami’s ill-fated decision to back Zelaya have been vindicated. And we hope that the Honduran people harbor no ill will toward the U.S., which cut off aid and took away some visas. But all’s well that end’s well, right?

Marty Peretz puckishly suggests that the Obama team should be touting this as a rare foreign-policy success. But that might require an uncomfortable recitation of the salient facts following the ouster of Zelaya:

The president spoke, Mrs. Clinton spoke especially shrilly. The government’s Latin American professionals supported Zelaya, whose backing seemed increasingly thin. And then quietly the Obamae began its retreat. First it said that it wanted Zelaya to return. But, then … no one in Foggy Bottom was talking about the deposed would-be dictator. And, yes, the U.S. would recognize the election of Lobo.

Yes, it’s a bit meandering. But what other foreign-policy foray has worked out so well? The Middle East. Hmm, not even. Iranian engagement? Yikes! Alliances with Eastern Europe and India? Uh, not really. The Russian reset? Slim pickings. The illustrious record on human rights? You see the point. At least in Honduras, the Obami figured out that they were playing a losing hand and retreated from the scene. It really is their finest hour.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

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Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

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Making Enemies, Influencing No One

The Obami foreign-policy gurus have perfected the art of annoying multiple parties in a number of international face-offs. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have had it with the Obama settlement-freeze gambit. And now the Obama team’s handling of Honduras has brought howls from several quarters:

Less than two weeks after U.S. diplomats announced a historic agreement to reverse a coup in Honduras, the accord is in danger of collapse and both Honduran officials and U.S. lawmakers are blaming American missteps for some of the failure. Ousted president Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled by the military in June, said in a telephone interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had assured him as recently as last week that the U.S. government was seeking his return to the presidency. But he said that U.S. pressure had eased in recent days and that he no longer had faith in the agreement.

It’s not just Zelaya who’s peeved. The “international community” is annoyed too:

José Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States, which is helping implement the accord, said that negotiations between Zelaya and the de facto government had fallen apart and that he would not send a mission to Honduras to observe presidential elections at the end of the month. That added to the possibility that the previously scheduled elections will not be internationally recognized — and that Honduras’s five-month-old crisis will continue.

Sen. John Kerry and others who took seriously the deal to have Zelaya reinstated are also chagrined to find out that the State Department isn’t really bent out of shape by the failure of the Honduran Congress to take a vote on returning Zelaya to power. The Obami, on background naturally, confess they were in essence pulling a fast one on Zelaya. (“Another senior U.S. official noted the agreement never specifically said that Zelaya would be reinstated, instead giving the Honduran National Congress the power to vote on it.”) The Obami desperately and belatedly want to move on to elections, a position their critics and the Honduran interim government had been urging for months.

The Obami’s “historic” arrangement was, of course, supposed to extract the Obama team from the disastrous stalemate they had helped to create. Realizing they had backed a lunatic for whom there was no popular support within Honduras, the Obami came up with a scheme — let Zelaya back in power, but not really. Leave it up to the Congress, which won’t vote to put him back in power even briefly, and just move on to elections. But now everyone has figured out the game and they don’t much appreciate the trickery.

Once again we see the rank incompetence and disastrous results brought about by the smart Obama diplomacy. They raise expectations unrealistically on one side (Zelaya, the Palestinians), give the critics the back of the hand, dig in, realize the error of their ways, try to reverse course, and pretend they aren’t — and wind up with everyone mad. When is it that we get around to “restoring our standing” in the world?

The Obami foreign-policy gurus have perfected the art of annoying multiple parties in a number of international face-offs. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have had it with the Obama settlement-freeze gambit. And now the Obama team’s handling of Honduras has brought howls from several quarters:

Less than two weeks after U.S. diplomats announced a historic agreement to reverse a coup in Honduras, the accord is in danger of collapse and both Honduran officials and U.S. lawmakers are blaming American missteps for some of the failure. Ousted president Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled by the military in June, said in a telephone interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had assured him as recently as last week that the U.S. government was seeking his return to the presidency. But he said that U.S. pressure had eased in recent days and that he no longer had faith in the agreement.

It’s not just Zelaya who’s peeved. The “international community” is annoyed too:

José Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States, which is helping implement the accord, said that negotiations between Zelaya and the de facto government had fallen apart and that he would not send a mission to Honduras to observe presidential elections at the end of the month. That added to the possibility that the previously scheduled elections will not be internationally recognized — and that Honduras’s five-month-old crisis will continue.

Sen. John Kerry and others who took seriously the deal to have Zelaya reinstated are also chagrined to find out that the State Department isn’t really bent out of shape by the failure of the Honduran Congress to take a vote on returning Zelaya to power. The Obami, on background naturally, confess they were in essence pulling a fast one on Zelaya. (“Another senior U.S. official noted the agreement never specifically said that Zelaya would be reinstated, instead giving the Honduran National Congress the power to vote on it.”) The Obami desperately and belatedly want to move on to elections, a position their critics and the Honduran interim government had been urging for months.

The Obami’s “historic” arrangement was, of course, supposed to extract the Obama team from the disastrous stalemate they had helped to create. Realizing they had backed a lunatic for whom there was no popular support within Honduras, the Obami came up with a scheme — let Zelaya back in power, but not really. Leave it up to the Congress, which won’t vote to put him back in power even briefly, and just move on to elections. But now everyone has figured out the game and they don’t much appreciate the trickery.

Once again we see the rank incompetence and disastrous results brought about by the smart Obama diplomacy. They raise expectations unrealistically on one side (Zelaya, the Palestinians), give the critics the back of the hand, dig in, realize the error of their ways, try to reverse course, and pretend they aren’t — and wind up with everyone mad. When is it that we get around to “restoring our standing” in the world?

Read Less




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